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California Mass Transit: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

MOVING LA-The times, they are a-changin’, and despite these troubled times for our region and state we are moving forward with transportation and infrastructure efforts that range from improvements at our ports to our water/energy grid to our rail system.  It’s a shame that our urban planning efforts are so misguided (at least at the political/governmental level), but at least the will of the people is being heard (overall) when it comes to wanting better mass transit.
First, the GOOD:

Los Angeles County, for all its traffic problems (and they’re just not going to go away, in large part because we do have such a huge role in our state, national and world economy), is coming up with alternatives to freeways to get commuters out of their cars (and the associated gridlock) and to their destinations in a more rapid and sure method with its current rail plans.  In fact, we’re becoming a model for other cities in the country. (Link)

We’ve got three projects that are either being built or about to be built—the Foothill Gold Line, the Exposition Light Rail Line, and the Crenshaw/LAX Line, which will either be built in, or affect, virtually every portion of LA County.  In the wings are the Orange Line Busway (count me in as someone who doesn’t value busways as meriting their own colors, but this is big for the San Fernando Valley) and the Downtown Light Rail Connector.

This isn’t just for choo-choo lovers, but for those who want alternatives to freeways—and these three lines (Foothill Gold, Expo and Crenshaw) are meant to be direct alternatives to the 210, 10 and 405 freeways, respectively.  Furthermore, there are lots of highway projects going on, from the I-405 (in both the Westside and southeast LA County) to the I-5 (in both the High Desert and at the Orange County border), and everywhere in-between.

In the aftermath of Measure R, we really can’t say our elected don’t give a hoot about our traffic problems.

Now, the BAD:

Despite being viscerally popular with most Californians, the California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) Project is clearly not “down with the details” on their planning as are Metro’s aforementioned projects when it comes to vetting and routing.  The Legislative Analyst up in Sacramento’s not too keen about how the CAHSR Authority’s doing things. (Link)

The LA Times editorial board, still supportive overall of the project, agreed with the Legislative Analyst and recommended building first in urban regions (instead of building the easiest portion of the line to construct in central California) just in case the money dries up. (Link).  

They may be right, but at this time—despite the valid concerns of economic deficit hawks and political conservatives—it’s my own guess that the majority of the voters of this state want the whole thing to somehow be built.  Whether it’s economically smart or not, this is still the state that rebuffed business concerns about alternative energy last November, so it’s probably best to hold the CAHSR Authority’s feet to the fire, continue the debate…but move forward.

As with Metro’s disjointed rail mass transit system, once it all comes together, the CAHSR will probably enjoy very high ridership and virtually no one will remember or even care about the current controversies.

And, finally, the UGLY:

It was recently reported in the Times that Exposition Park is really turning into a wonderful local/tourist attraction that will extend Downtown’s revival to the south and west, but an unsightly Expo Line will be surrounded by two lines of black fencing, thereby creating an ugly divide between USC and the rest of the park. (Link)  

It’s hard to interpret this turn of events, because those of us who’ve followed and/or advocated for this project remember how the leadership of USC—despite the overwhelming support for the Expo Line from both students, alumni and employees alike—opted to be a perpetual drag on the Expo Line in a manner that reflects poorly on these leaders.  No names need to be mentioned, but they darn well know who they are, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

The Authority became forced to focus on safety over aesthetics, and now hopefully a more representative leadership of both USC and the local museums will consider ways to beautify or revise the ugly fence and throw in a few beautiful pedestrian bridges to ensure both safety and a more open atmosphere for the USC/Exposition Park site.  But it’ll take some local dollars to do that, so to the billionaires at the campus and adjacent museums…tag, you’re it!

Of course, it’s entirely incorrect from both an intellectual and moral standpoint to let the Authority off the hook.  They’ve been too hamhanded in how they’ve pursued the line (although considering the waves of opposition they’ve had to encounter just to build the line, perhaps there’s a reason for that ham-handedness), and whether it’s lack of money or being forced into covering themselves legally with respect to safety, they’ve just not put enough into beautifying the line.

Fortunately, in Phase 2 of the line we’ve got Westside leader Jonathan Weiss and the City of L.A. teaming up to create an Expo Greenway between Sepulveda and Overland that involves water reclamation, open space and a wonderful place for Westsiders to enjoy instead of the ugly strip of land we now have there.  

Furthermore, the Authority would do well to consider the recommendations of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee to explore the revision of station plans in both Phase 1 and Phase 2 that includes solar panels to power station needs and actually provide shelter for transit riders from both the sun and other elements.

After all, we paid for these projects…so we might as well get the most from our shared investment.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently cochairs its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at    The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.) -cw

Vol 9 Issue 40
Pub: May 20, 2011